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Magazine Meet the Makers

A (Brew) Day In The Life Of Danny McColl

McColl’s Brewery founder Danny takes us through a typical brew day in County Durham…

Danny McColl from McColl's Brewery

8:00 am

Straight in the door and it’s on with the steam boiler. It runs through its safety checks and then the reassuring fan kicks in and we are on. In less than 45 mins some 3500L of liquor will be up to 75C and we’ll be ready to mash in. This gives us enough time to double-check the brew sheet, the brewhouse is all good and, most importantly, get the kettle on for a cuppa.

9:00 am

And we are mashing in, slowly blending the brewing liquor with the malt and other grains, making continuous temperature, pH and volume measurements, tweaking as we mash in to make sure we hit spec. Then the mash is left to rest for an hour – this ‘spare’ hour is filled with cleaning, maybe a transfer or measurements on other beers in the tank before testing the mash for starch conversion.

10:00 am

It’s time to transfer the sugary sweet wort from the Mash Tun to the Copper (where boiling takes place). The transfer is a relatively slow process and a fine balance between managing the mash level, topping up with sparge liquor (a fine sprinkling of hot water) and the slow and gradual heating of the Copper as it fills up. This slow transfer and need for constant judgement means we don’t leave the brewhouse gantry – it’s actually the slowest and easiest hour of the day. Often a cold cuppa is drunk or a quick catch up on social media is all that’s done.

Danny McColl Pictured Brewing Beer

11: 30 am

As the final run-in from the Mash Tun reaches the Copper and the sparge comes to an end, the boiler is now going full tilt and the brewery takes on a different persona. Calm and slow and relative quiet is banished, replaced with the rapid, noisy and intense power of heating over 2500L of wort. The remaining jobs for the day start now! Sterilising the Fermentation Vessel, raking out nearly 500kg of wet through spent grain and cleaning the Mash Tun, all before the boil is reached.

12:30 pm

And in no time the boil is reached. We don’t venture too far now other than to weigh out the hops and check everything is ticking over. With the intensity of the boil and the importance of adding hops at the right time we might squeegee the floor (the true brewer’s vocation), but not much else is worth wandering away from the Copper for.

1:30 pm

The boil comes to an end and depending on the style we’ll either start transferring to FV or we’ll cool the wort down to 80C whilst still in the Copper and do a further hop addition, to retain as much aroma as possible.

2:00 pm

The hopped, cooled wort will now be well on its way to a sanitized FV, dropping from 100C down to anything between 15 and 39C depending on yeast and beer style. It’s usually during transfer of the hopped wort that the local farmer arrives to pick up the spent grain. Whilst happy cows await his return, the weather, the ground underfoot and any local gossip is usually the extent of the craic; it’s a nice distraction from the intensity of the past few hours.

3:00 pm

By this point, the legs feel a tiny bit heavier, always a little damp, but the brew day is nearing the end now. The yeast is now pitched into the FV when you’re confident both temperature and gravity are on spec, before the final big job of the day needs doing – digging out the trub from the Copper, a sticky slurry of wort and hops.

3:30 pm

Wort, or now technically beer, is nicely in the tank, cleaning cycles are in full pelt on the Copper, heat exchanger and all associated pipe runs, and just a nice run through of checks and measurements, a tidy up and a triple check of all valves, ports and pumps before calling it a day… that’s if everything runs smoothly. Filters often block, chillers are often temperamental things or the pile of dirty casks and kegs need tackling.

4:30 pm

We might have a quick beer at the taproom whilst loading the van for deliveries to the local community on the way home. And that’s that!

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